The news of Christopher Hitchens’ death from cancer is not a surprise. People I know who spoke with him in recent weeks said that his writing was keeping him alive, but there was less and less of that emerging from his hospital bedside. It appears that his very last article will be his much commented upon recent meditation on Nietzsche’s axiom that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” which touched off a flurry of discussion about whether Hitch was on the verge of a religious moment in his life. One can imagine him doing this for his own amusement.
I reviewed one of Hitchens’ sprawling essay collections in the Claremont Review of Books back in 2005, excerpts from which I’ll let stand as an obit:
“I wake up every day to a sensation of pervading disgust and annoyance,” Christopher Hitchens explains at the outset of Love, Poverty, and War, his new collection of essays. In due course, he offers a corollary: “There can be no progress without head-on confrontation.”
Contrarianism is not a bad way to approach the modern world, because you will seldom be wrong. Hitchens has refined contrarianism into a high art that transcends mere iconoclasm, though one may doubt whether his name will be made into an adjective after the fashion of his hero, George Orwell. Hitchens would be among the first to admit that the cadences are incommensurate: “Hitchensian” doesn’t roll off the tongue as neatly as “Orwellian.” He shares two important traits with Orwell, nonetheless: his loving skill with the English language, and his revulsion at the smelly little orthodoxies of the Left. . .
But it is not easy to put sail to Hitchens’s whirlwind. His strong dislikes include Henry Kissinger, Mel Gibson, Bill Clinton, Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Pope John Paul II, and, most notoriously, Mother Teresa. He could probably find a dark side to Mary Poppins. The book is filled with acerbic gems. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gets a well-deserved pasting: “And petty is not just Bloomberg’s middle name. It is his name…. Who knows what goes on in the tiny, constipated chambers of his mind? All we know for certain is that one of the world’s most broad-minded and open cities is now in the hands of a picknose control freak.”
Too soon to tell whether his body of work will take its place beside his hero and model—Orwell—but his snappy prose shall certainly be missed.
UPDATE: The other great Christopher among contemporary writers–Christopher Buckley–offers his salutation online at The New Yorker.